September 14, 2014


Ma: DPP is democracy's biggest crisis

Taiwan's highly unpopular President Ma Ying-jeou had a speech at Kuomintang's 19th Plenary Session in Chiayi today. Apple Daily reported on some key moments from his speech. This is what he said among other things:

"Minority is bullying majority"

"DPP is democracy's biggest crisis"

"it's the biggest crisis of Taiwan's current democracy."

"Please stop the violence, internal friction's scorching earth style fight, return democracy to the right path, use civilized way to convince people."

"Chinese Kuomintang is for Taiwanese the best option."

It's amazing how distant this president is from its people, and the reality most of them see. It's going to be a long long two years until the next presidential election.

August 23, 2014

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Taiwan Explorer among top Taiwan centric Facebook pages, Taiwanreporter number one

I've recently discovered that Facebook offers page administrators a way to monitor other Facebook pages, such as their number of total likes, new likes per week, and the weekly engagement (which consists of likes, comments and shares for the past 7 days). The statistics nerd that I am, I started to monitor other pages around a month ago. It took me a while, but I think I've compiled a list of more or less all English language Facebook Pages that are sharing things related to Taiwan. I only focused on following kinds of pages: Pages of personal blogs, personal websites, non-profit organizations, and news media. I did not add pages of companies, products, commercial websites, or celebrities, my main focus was on those who genuinely like to share interesting articles, photos, information, or opinions related to Taiwan, and the events that are taking place inside the country, and in the wider region. In this post you will get a better understanding of which Taiwan centric English language Facebook pages are right now most engaging, and therefore perhaps most interesting to follow. You will also get to know where Taiwan Explorer Page stands among them right now.

The complete list

Let's first look at my list like it's presented in Facebook's Insights. I might have missed a page or two (and I apologize in advance for that), but I think I have found at least 90% of all Taiwan centric pages. The main criteria used by Facebook is the number of likes, however for me this is not the most important aspect of s successful page. It's definitely important, but it can also be deceiving. Nevertheless, below is the complete list of the pages I have found. The data is from the period Aug 17. 2014 - Aug 23. 2014, they are sorted automatically by Facebook (for your reference, I am number 33):

As you can see, a lot of pages, especially at the bottom of the list, are either dead (such as The NH Bushman), or update very rarely (such as En Route To Fluency). Both blogs however are updating regularly, which shows where the authors place their priority. A Facebook page is not everybody's thing. I see a lot of Taiwan bloggers on Twitter and Instagram, some are also on Tumblr and Pinterest, but may not have a Facebook page. On the other hand there are pages at the top of the list that show very low engagement such as the Sunflower Movement 太陽花學 and Taiwan Voice, however that's because they update at irregular intervals. This means when they do update, they often have a very high engagement level in that period. So take this list with a grain of salt, and double check an individual page to see the activity in a longer period than just the previous week. I believe however that a Facebook page needs regular care and updates, so if you want to have high engagement, updating a few times per day is a must to maintain a certain level and grow. I'm speaking from my own experience, and I believe it's common to all pages on the list that have an active and expanding follower base.

The most engaging page is Taiwanreporter

I personally believe that engagement always trumps the sheer number of page likes. A lot of people "like" a page, but don't actively follow afterwards. So as of right now, this is the actual current top 5 of Taiwan centric English language Facebook pages:

So what is Taiwanreporter's secret? Since I'm following his page more or less from the start, I think I might have some ideas:

- He updates daily, but not to much, just a right amount (5 to maximum 10 posts)
- He shares interesting stuff from politics, to travel, to every day life. Sometimes he reports live.
- Some of his posts are in German, some in English, which widens the audience
- He grew a big base of Taiwanese followers (who live in Taiwan and overseas)
- He's the main information source for Germans in Taiwan (and Taiwanese in Germany)
- He found the right balance between keeping the site classy, and allowing good discussions
- He's a one person page, he's authentic, and easy to relate to (as opposed to an organization)
- He uses his blog and other social media (Twitter, Vine) to generate content, and lure in new followers

Taiwanreporter and my own page are the only two on the list that are created and managed by one person, Focus Taiwan page is managed by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA), and American Citizens for Taiwan are pages based in the US and representing two overseas organizations.

Three different metrics

I decided to take a closer look only at those pages that have the most engagement, and not most page likes. I got a top 20 this way, all the pages with low or no engagement are therefore not part of this list. Then I sorted them in 3 different ways:

Active pages sorted by the number of page likes

When it comes to page likes, nobody is even close to Explore Traveler. I have no idea how this page garnered so many likes, but the engagement level is extremely low compared to that number, which leaves a big invisible question mark above my head.

Active pages sorted by the number of engagement

This is once again for me the most important indicator that a page is really doing well, and Taiwanreporter is by far topping the list. And he's maintaining such high level for several weeks (perhaps months). It's pretty steady, and seem to be growing based on my irregular checking of Facebook's insights. My page is doing very well lately, the engagement is really growing rapidly, and I too am able to maintain such level for several weeks now (a big spike of followers and engagement occured when I started to report on the Sunflower Movement).

Active pages sorted by the ratio of engagement vs. page likes

This last metric is kind of interesting. I divided the engagement number with the total number of page likes. The higher the percentage, the more active is the follower base of a page. Everything below 5% is low, it indicates that the page is perhaps stagnating. Between 5-15% it's a good engagement level, everything above is extremely good, and might be caused by an unusual spike. I'm pretty sure that I can't keep my current high level for too long, I will probably fall significantly very soon (if I could maintain over 20% for a longer period of time like Taiwanreporter, that would be a big achievement).

How I grew my Facebook page

I started to pay attention to pages when Facebook added the Timeline feature in March 2012. Initially it was used for linking to my blog, nothing more. It had low engagement, and just few likes. At some point, though, I realized that in order to get more readers for my blog, I have to find ways to increase engagement on social media, and Facebook (together with Instagram) were my first priority. I decided to expand my sharing on the page to photos and interesting links, and the followers started to grow quickly in 2013. At the end of the year I decided to rebrand myself and became "Taiwan Explorer",  I had to create a completely new page in order to be able to get the new name. This meant that I went from nearly 1000 followers to 0, and had to work myself up again. It was hard in the beginning, but after reaching around 500 likes, the engagement became almost the same as on the old page, and the growth of weekly likes became steady. At the same time I have also perfected the way I find interesting and unique content related to Taiwan, and I think I found my niche, that separates me from other Taiwan centric pages. But as the followers and the engagement grow, so does the stress level. Sometimes I miss the old times when it was a little bit more peaceful in the comment threads. Now I have lots of people who follow me for a year or two, and they instantly get my irony or sarcasm, and those new ones, who are still sometimes struggling to get my funny side. All in all I hope for a slow growth of new followers, and a steady engagement level. Generally I'm enjoying the comments and reactions, and because of the excellent mobile app, I'm more or less connected to my page all the time. If I'm not too busy, I often reply on the go (however lately I'm quite busy, so I'm not that interactive). I'd like to thank all those of you who enjoy following my updates. This is still my hobby, I've no ulterior motives to monetize anything I do on social media or my blog, I just want to keep it fun for myself and all of you. Hopefully for a long time.

Links to top 20 Taiwan centric Facebook pages

TaiwanreporterTaiwanese AmericanFocus TaiwanTaiwan ExplorerAmerican Citizens for TaiwanTravel in TaiwanExplore TravelerTaipei TrendsThinking TaiwanFormosan Association For Public AffairsForward Taiwan 。 向前台灣Waeguk TomRound Taiwan RoundTaiwan VoiceTaiwan CornerLove, DadaochengHacking ChineseKetagalan MediaMata TaiwanTaipei 543

August 20, 2014

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Taiwan traffic survival tips

A blog post linked on Taiwanreporter's Facebook page named Culture Clash: 6 Reasons Germans Could Never Survive in Taiwan caught my attention today. The Upworthy-style title is of course complete nonsense, I know a couple of Germans who are living in Taiwan for many years, and they're "surviving" quite fine. I know the title is exaggerating to grab attention, and not meant too be taken literally. The author is listing potential challenges Germans might face in Taiwan, and some of the arguments she makes are valid. But the last one definitely stands out: "Taiwanese people don't adhere to traffic rules". She explains:

"Foreigners need to be careful crossing the street as cars rarely stop for pedestrians, even if it is the pedestrian’s right of way. I’ve almost been run over 10 times since I’ve arrived. Scooters/mopeds are the worst offenders of running red lights. Germans could never survive in such chaos. They follow all traffic rules and get mad at those who inadvertently break them. I’m constantly getting yelled at in Germany. The Germans would be appalled at Taiwan traffic. I know I am, and I’m not even German!"

This is where I think she's wrong. First of all, if we take into consideration what she's describing, the title should be: "Taiwanese people don't adhere to German traffic rules". If Germans come to Taiwan, and expect German traffic rules, then she's right, they will have extreme difficulties to get used to what is often perceived as chaos by most Europeans (not only Germans) who come here. But that doesn't mean there are no traffic rules in Taiwan. To the contrary, there are many rules, that are quite consistently implemented, and even the author unknowingly mentioned some of them, such as:

- Cars rarely stop for pedestrians, even if it is the pedestrian's right of way
- Scooters/mopeds are running red lights

Taiwanese traffic rules

I want to expand this part, and add a few unwritten rules based on my own observations. Could be very useful for those very German Germans among my readers who do what Taiwanese rarely do - walk. These are my survival tips:

1) Traffic in Taiwan means survival of the fittest. As a pedestrian you are the lowest in the hierarchy, and are therefore expected to give way to all other means of transportation. Generally, the power structure is as following: Bus, truck > van, luxury car, police car, taxi > normal car > scooter > bicycle > pedestrian. For example, a bus has the right to push or cut off every other vehicle, and nobody will complain. A normal car has the right to push and cut off scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, but not vans, trucks, and buses.

2) Traffic lights are for reference only, don't rely on them. Always look left and right to be sure no kamikaze scooter is appearing out of nowhere while you make your first step.

3) Related to the first two rules, never complain being cut off or nearly hit. If that happened it's your fault, as you haven't been following the rules properly. As a pedestrian you are the lowest member in the traffic hierarchy.

4) If there's no car or scooter in sight, cross to the other side despite of the red light (don't be German about it). I've never ever seen or heard someone got fined for that.

5) When you cross the road, imagine you're playing Frogger, and the frog is you. Walk slowly, anticipate cars and if they speed, stop and let them pass. If you see scooters, you don't need to stop. Instead walk slowly, and they will either pass in front of you, or at your back.

6) If a car approaches you in normal speed, keep walking. He will not stop, but he will most definitely not hit you. He will slow down if necessary, or brake in the last moment, but generally he will try to avoid it, and hope you cross as fast as possible, so he doesn't need to interrupt his current speed level.

7) Never stop out of a sudden, or walk backwards, as it might cause confusion, and possibly trigger an accident.

8) Never argue with people who don't wear helmets on scooters, or who's kids don't wear helmets. It might shock you when you see it for the first time, but better mind your own business and move on. You won't change anything, because the police doesn't do anything about it.

Do you have any tips to add? If yes, drop a comment.

August 11, 2014


My list of Taiwan blogs is redesigned

A few years ago I had an idea to make my own list of Taiwan blogs based on RSS feeds, because the once promising site Bloggers in Taiwan, that had the original idea, stopped managing their list, and for some reason they have removed me from the main feed when I was gaining popularity. That site used to be very popular a few years ago, not only because they had a very up to date Taiwan blog directory, but also because they were featuring new blogs once per month. It was a great way for me to discover new English language Taiwan blogs, but then all of a sudden the updates stopped, and the list has remained frozen in time. The last featured blog dates to October 2012. I created my Taiwan blog list in August 2012 right around the time when "Bloggers in Taiwan" started to lose its mojo. I created a separate blog in my Blogger account, and placed the RSS widget in the center of the page. This is how it used to look from 2012 until today:

My old "List of Taiwan Blogs" design 2012-2014.

I didn't really care about the design at that time, my main concern was curating and managing an interesting list of blogs related to Taiwan. This was basically a side project of low importance. I did however create a nice banner in Pages consisting of my own Instagram pictures. I thought that was quite unique and interesting, but all in all I was never really satisfied with the design. When I redesigned my main blog earlier this year, I knew that I have to do something about that blog, that was surprisingly picking up traffic, and gaining attention from those who were looking for Taiwan related content. This weekend I finally did the redesign after getting a friendly nudge from fellow blogger Taiwanvore (and it wasn't her first time).

But it wasn't only the design that I wanted to improve, I had to go through the feed, and check who's still updating, and who else belongs there. One of the things I greatly improved compared to the initial version is I focused on specialized feeds based on tags, labels and categories. There are a lot of China bloggers, who serve Taiwan on the side, but still write great Taiwan related content, so it makes much more sense to just subscribe to their Taiwan feed (examples of that are Austin Ramzy, or Justrecently). They said RSS is a thing from the past, but I still use it a lot on daily basis, and in the case of my blog list, RSS is definitely essential and indispensable.

Here's my new design:

The background photo was provided by Blogger.

I wanted to have a more coherent experience between my blog and this page, but not totally abandon the core of the previous design (because I didn't find any good alternative). What changed is the width, which is now narrower, and the columns, which are now just two instead of three. I've decided to remove all unnecessary information, and give the two blog feeds most attention. As a fan of Instapaper, I decided to replace Verdana with a serif font, and I chose Georgia, one of my all time favorites. In addition to that I decided to add text symbols next to blog titles to give users a kind of easier way to navigate through over 150 Taiwan blogs (as of August 2014). Due to limited width, I had to cut some titles short, because I wanted a consistent look, and I constantly checked, if it looks good on my iPad, where I usually consume reading material. I'm glad to say it looks very good, I'm very satisfied.

You can let me know, if you want Taiwan blog added there, however I don't add everyone. It has to be interesting to me in the first place, and I avoid adding certain kinds of blogs, which I will not reveal here. Nevertheless, I think this list is the most comprehensive so far, most of the blogs there are updating regularly, and will give you a great insight on what the web is currently about when it comes to Taiwan. Best way to use that list is to bookmark it, and check for updates.


August 9, 2014

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How Taipei Times sees international marriages in Taiwan

A few days ago Taipei Times published an article named Cross Cultures, that is discussing various aspects of international marriages in Taiwan, or to be more specific, marriages consisting of a Taiwanese national and a foreign national. I was very happy that they dedicated a lengthy article to this topic, because I happen to be in such marriage. But after reading the piece I decided to highlight one aspect that I find problematic. Perhaps you will think I'm too sensitive, but I think great sensitivity is very important in this context. The article starts promising:

From language acquisition to raising children, international marriages aren’t what people commonly think they are

I definitely agree with this part. The author goes on:

Due to globalization, Taiwan has experienced an increasingly robust expatriate community, leading to a rise in cross-border marital unions. People finding love in those holding different passports are walking a newly forged path in this global phenomenon, and often their family units face a litany of common misconceptions from broader society. Hearing the voices of those married internationally reveal helpful information which can help us understand these alternative families.

A great introduction, that makes you even more interested to read on, but as I continued, I realized that the author came to all those general conclusions only by sampling couples consisting of a white American and a Taiwanese. Now, I don't mind to read about the experiences this particular sub-group of international marriages in Taiwan has to share, but they are in no way representative of anything but the sub-group they belong to. If you're introducing a topic in general terms, but then merely write about something that only represents a very small part of that topic, I find this misleading to the reader, and generally harmful to the overall portrayal of international marriages in Taiwan. For example, this part in no way represents me:

Many people think cross-cultural marriages must be extra difficult. Amanda Wu debunks this myth. “In some ways we find that our international marriage is actually easier since we make less assumptions,” Wu says. “Instead of jumping to the conclusion that he’s being selfish or mean or disrespectful, I first assume it must be a cultural thing which allows us a chance to talk about the reasons behind whatever it was that offended or hurt,” she adds.

First of all, for me cross-cultural marriages are difficult, so she hasn't debunked any myth from my point of view. That's just her personal opinion and experience, and I'm pretty sure not representative of a vast majority (but maybe it wasn't meant as such). Secondly, if you assume an argument is caused by a personality trait or by a cultural particularity, you are still making assumptions (you're trading one kind of assumptions for another), so how is that making "international marriage easier" and with "less assumptions"? I don't get the reasoning behind this statement.

To go back to my original train of thought, Taiwanese with white or Western partners get disproportionately more attention in the local media and online forums (search for CCR) than Taiwanese married to other foreign nationals. According to my research from 3 years ago on interracial relationships in Taiwan, I came to following conclusions:

- Taiwanese, who marry foreigners, will generally marry someone from East Asia or South East Asia (in 97.1% of the cases).

- Most foreign spouses come from People's Republic of China (66% of all foreign spouses). However, this is a bit tricky, as these "foreigners" have a special status in Taiwan.

- Most foreign female spouses, that are of non-Han Chinese descent, come from Vietnam. If we exclude nationals of PR China, they would constitute 62.2% of all foreign female spouses.

My post is a little old, but I believe the overall conclusions and interpretations of that data are still valid today. I think a little bit of nuance changes everything, so this is how I would phrase the introduction to this article, if I were the author:

What do you think about this issue?

August 5, 2014

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Does Sean Lien intend to destroy Shezi?

On the picture below you can see Shezi 社子, a peninsula in northern Taipei, that was beautifully carved by the rivers Keelung and Tamsui at their confluence. It's one of the last semi-rural parts of Taipei (also called Shizi Island 社子島 in Chinese), where you can find mangroves, and some unique birds in the sandbanks of the two rivers. The area belongs to Shilin District, but it's very different than the heavily urbanized core east of Keelung River.

Shezi was recently in the news, but for all the wrong reasons.

To make a long story short: The candidate for the next Mayor of Taipei, Sean Lien, said in his infamous video with foreigners, which was ridiculed by Taiwanese and foreigners alike, that he'd like to turn it into a free trade zone. From the video:

"I'm thinking about maybe we can use that small island in the north-west side of Taipei and apply for a free trade zone, because it's 30 minutes away from downtown, and the land cost is really low, and people there really want development and job opportunity, but then obviously because it's a free trade zone, the law is currently in the Legislative Yuan, and unfortunatey it's being challenged by the opposition party, and some of the pro-independence groups, so I don't know when is it gonna go through, but one thing I can guarantee you, once that law, if it ever gets passed, that's something that I want, we're gonna use that opportunity to really really set, develop the city, which obviously includes setting up, or apply for a free trade zone."

While Lien's video was criticized mostly for the style and tone, the choice of foreigners, the expensive food, I found his answer involving Shezi the most troubling, and I hoped that more would've been said about it. Taipei Times was the only English source that ran a small story on this:

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) has again become the subject of derision after he suggested turning “a small island northwest of Taipei” — Shezi Island (社子島) — into a free-trade pilot zone. Lien voiced the Shezi Island idea in a new campaign video he posted on Facebook on Sunday that features him chatting in English with a group of foreign residents sitting around a table with lunchboxes.

The author Alison Hsiao summarized some of the reactions to the proposed "Shezi Free Trade Zone", which mainly point at Lien's lack of understanding of local particularities. However, for me there's a bigger problem: A lack of understanding can be mended. If one is openminded and willing to learn, this is not a long term problem, but Lien's answer shows that he's willing to build on what he believes to be an undeveloped island not far away from downtown for the sake of "job opportunity" and to "develop the city", which is for me very worrying (and I'm still baffled why some of the foreigners just nodded to what he said as if it's a good idea), because it shows where his priorities lay. Taipei shouldn't be striving for new development, Taipei needs redevelopment (of some areas), but first and foremost it needs to continue with the revitalization and preservation of historic sites (something Mayor Hau heavily pushed, and should be commended for), expansion of green spaces, a comprehensive approach against pollution, as well as investment in innovative architecture and city renewal, that will improve the quality of life of the citizens, and not solely benefit construction companies. Taipei also needs to focus on the integration with "New Taipei" and its hinterland, because that's where new development is possible, and needed. I hope Shezi can continue to be one of the city's green spots, and remain a semi-rural residential and recreational area. Together with Guandu, it's one of the most scenic parts of Taipei. The people of Shezi definitely deserve development and more resources, but we don't need another concrete jungle.

Shezi on Map:
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